Blog Post

How Should We Adapt to a Changing Climate?

Sep 25, 2017 | Peter Nelson

While the links between climate change and increased storm intensity remain uncertain, this hurricane season has prompted a new focus on extreme weather. Now many, including former Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director Craig Fugate are calling additional attention to climate adaptation. “It ain't about climate change anymore, it's about climate adaptation," he told NBC’s Today Show.

Several years ago my colleagues at RFF produced a major report and a series of background papers that analyzed potential adaptation strategies for the United States. The topics ranged from infrastructure to ecosystems to public health. If public officials are considering investing in adaptation, the report—“Reforming Institutions and Managing Extremes: US Policy Approaches for Adapting to a Changing Climate”—and its companion material should be required reading.

The report identifies three themes for adaption policy: getting incentives right, reforming institutions, and providing needed information. One of the nice features of the recommendations is that they are “no regrets,” or simple, common-sense reforms that are worth doing even without climate risk.

For example, it’s fairly obvious that the structure of the National Flood Insurance Program is not adequate for handling the kind extreme flooding we saw from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. One suggestion is to adjust policies so that a multiyear flood insurance policy is tied to the property, rather than the owner.

In another example, experts considered issues facing freshwater supplies in relation to climate change and identified redundancy in water systems as a way to increase resilience during shortages, as well as increasing protected floodplains and other infrastructure to slow runoff and reduce erosion during floods.

These and other suggestions for policymakers are available in the RFF report.

The views expressed in RFF blog posts are those of the authors and should not be attributed to Resources for the Future.